Forgiveness is not talked about much in business. It should be. I think it’s a bit misunderstood.
Forgiveness is not looking the other way, it’s not forgetting, it’s not even the same as making up. Forgiveness is the conscious choice to let go of resentment. Sounds good, right? So why don’t we do it all the time? Like a drug, wallowing in resentment can feel good in the short term. We can be “right,” and make the other person “wrong.” We feel we deserve sympathy from ourselves and others for our predicament. We get a sense of power and control. We don’t have to assume responsibility.
The cost of holding on to resentment is high. The bitterness and distance it creates can be palpable. Walking on eggshells is no fun for sure, but the greater cost is to our collective success. When we avoid a co-worker or do a “work-around” we waste time and resources. If we allow our relationships to suffer, we allow our own career and our company to languish. Probably most importantly, our own peace of mind suffers.
Let’s break it down. There are three types of forgiveness:
1. Exoneration which is wiping the slate clean and is usually given in the case of a true accident. When a high school student turned into my lane and crunched my car, it was an accident. He apologized and I exonerated him.
2. Forbearance, to forgive but not forget. This is usual when the offender makes a partial or unauthentic apology and little or no reparation is made. It was Ronald Reagan who said, “We must trust but verify.” I had a co-worker who took credit for my work. At one point she apologized, but I did not feel that she was sincere. I forgave her, but I also felt that she could do it again, so I reserve some of my trust.
3. Release, when no apology is given. We choose to give up our anger and release our hard feelings for our own piece of mind. This could be important when the offender has completely moved out of our lives or is a stranger.
When we truly forgive we do not do it for others. We forgive primarily for our own sake. Forgiveness may enable us to repair breakdowns, it may bring peace to relationships, and it may even help the person we are forgiving to feel better. But those are side effects. The main advantage of forgiveness is that it frees us from resentment; it releases us from the grip of the past, allowing us to contemplate it and move on. This does not mean that we lower our standards or fail to hold others accountable for improving. It enables us to be free of painful feelings.
Forgiveness is not just about forgiving others, it can also be about forgiving one’s self for our transgressions. It does not negate the necessity of being responsible. It allows us to experience peace at a deeper level. Forgiving takes courage and has the opportunity to bring peace. We could all use more of that.